Mediterranean Gas

By Yusuf Kanli

From time to time Turkey has issued statements reminding the Greek Cypriot-run Cyprus republic and some other countries of the Mediterranean basin that the Greek Cypriot administration cannot undertake cooperation schemes with other countries.

Engaging with nearby countries in pursuit of the natural riches of the Mediterranean is just another example of how the Greek Cypriots operate in total defiance of the unalienable rights of their Turkish Cypriot partners in the independence and sovereignty of the island. Their Greek Cypriot partners have not allowed them to exercise their partnership rights in governing the island since December 1963.

That is, Ankara has been frequently reminding countries like Egypt, Israel and Syria that: a) in the absence of the Turkish Cypriot element in the administration of the island, the Greek Cypriots alone cannot represent the government of the entire island; b) as equal partners with Greek Cypriots in the sovereignty and independence of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the island’s offshore riches as well and their share cannot be ignored; c) as long as there is no settlement on the island and the bi-communal power-sharing problem continues, Greek Cypriots do not possess the legitimacy of undertaking unilateral decisions over the common riches of the island and its economic zone in the sea.

A second element in Ankara’s not-so-seldom notes to littoral countries was the absence of a deal with Turkey, a country with a huge Mediterranean shore, regarding utilization of the resources of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, obviously, is not a state that can turn a blind eye to some greedy eyes fixed on resources of the Mediterranean in total defiance of the interests of Turkey.

The gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, will of course, have a very serious impact on the geopolitical situation of the entire region. For example, in the last days of 2010, Noble Energy and partners announced that the Leviathan field, off the north coast of Israel contained at least 16 Tcf of recoverable gas, which would make the field one of the largest offshore natural gas fields ever. Such a giant discovery, which may be followed by other discoveries, would certainly make Israel a prime candidate as a natural gas exporter. The United States Geological Survey has estimated that the Eastern Mediterranean may hold 200 Tcf of ultimately recoverable natural gas.

On, Michael Economides recently commented that Israel’s success in the energy arena “is a game-changer” in geopolitics. According to Economides, first, the least worrisome eventuality would be a conflict between Israel and its northern neighbor Lebanon, which is already claiming that the Leviathan prospect extends into its waters and is planning for an exploration program off its coast. Further west, Noble already holds the only lease in Cypriot waters, which could prove success in the outer reaches of the Leviathan Basin. Israel and Cyprus are cooperating to define the borders of the continental shelf under the rules of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. A country has certain rights, which includes the right to explore and exploit natural resources, within a distance of 200 nautical miles. The closest distance between Israel and Cyprus is 140 nautical miles and, according to international law, the boundary is set midway between the two countries. These are, of course, just some factual details. But, there are more important things in the article by Economides that requires very careful reading.

“Natural gas may bring Israel and Cyprus (and by extension Greece) into a natural alliance, not just for the economic benefit. In a classic example of the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ the recent breech between Israel and Turkey brings the Greeks closer to Israel. A natural gas pipeline from the Israeli finds to Cyprus would be an obvious gesture of the rapprochement. Such a pipeline, which could benefit Cyprus, now in the process of making a decision to import natural gas as a highly expensive LNG, can become the vehicle for LNG liquefaction and then exports of LNG to a natural gas starving Europe, suffocated by Russian natural gas imports. An alternative substantial source of natural gas to Europe can provide what the ill-fated Nabucco pipeline is unlikely to ever deliver. Two LNG trains on Cyprus each of 7 million metric tons of LNG will amount to about 23 percent of Russian exports to Western Europe, which were 3.3 Tcf in 2009. Israeli natural gas, as almost everything else in that part of the world, has many more dimensions than the obvious.”

Strange enough, while it has been so vocal on the Mediterranean gas and oil speculations, as regards these hard developments Ankara has been dead silent. Whereas, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias is now traveling to Tel Aviv and high on his agenda is an accord on Leviathan rights… Noble Energy, on the other hand, is waiting at the Larnaca port for the political go-ahead to start its Leviathan dig.

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